Fire dept. might close after treasurer stole almost $5K

The former treasurer stole from the department by cashing checks in which she forged the chief's signature


Knoxville News-Sentinel

McMINN COUNTY, Tenn. — A former McMinn County volunteer fire department treasurer stole $4,954 from the department by cashing checks in which she forged the chief’s signature and also stole cash from other fundraising activities, officials said.

Donna Hurst, 39, Sweetwater, was charged with 20 counts of forgery and theft over $1,000. She is free on $25,000 bond pending a March 2 hearing in McMinn County Circuit Court.

On Nov. 18, a McMinn County grand jury indicted Hurst, according to a news release Wednesday from state Comptroller Justin Wilson.

A special investigation by the Comptroller’s Office revealed that Hurst stole at least $4,954 from the Union Grove Volunteer Fire Department in McMinn County when she served as department treasurer, officials said.

According to the Comptroller’s Office, during the period June 2012 through January 2013, Hurst cashed 21 unauthorized fire department checks that she wrote to herself.

Hurst also signed the fire chief’s name and used the proceeds for her personal benefit, authorities said.

Investigators also discovered Hurst stole an indeterminable amount of fundraiser collections. This money was gathered during the fire department’s “boot drive” and car wash fundraisers, officials said.

Investigators identified a lack of financial controls within the Fire Department. Specifically, Hurst was allowed to receive collections, make deposits, sign checks, and she was the only official who reviewed bank statements, authorities said.

Fire department officials indicate they have corrected or intend to correct these issues.

Fire Chief Alvin Shoemaker says each month, they only receive two hundred dollars from McMinn County for operating costs. He says he's afraid if the community doesn't reach out, they will be forced to close their doors for good.

In a statement, Wilson said volunteer fire departments often count on the public to financially support their operations and it is vital that fire officials create oversight within their departments to safeguard public money.

To view the special investigation report online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/ia/.

Copyright 2015 Knoxville News-Sentinel
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